By TERESA C. TORISEVA
WHEELING -- West Virginia children hid from witches, ghosts and goblins while trick or treating this Halloween. Their parents, however, should be terrified of a real monster -- Big Insurance.
These billion-dollar insurance corporations want to increase their profits at the expense of West Virginia consumers. Big Insurance is one of the leading groups behind so-called "tort reforms" which limit the rights of consumers, workers and small businesses to hold insurance companies accountable when they delay or lowball claims.
Big Insurance has led the effort to kill these consumer protection laws because it claims that it can't afford to do business.
Can't afford to do business? Industry profits have nearly doubled over the last seven years. In 1999, they made a paltry $22.2 billion in profit. Last year that increased to a record $44.8 billion. Their surpluses grew to $427.1 billion last year according to an analysis by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
Does that sound like an industry on the verge of financial collapse?
They made profits like that in spite of Katrina and the worst hurricane season on record -- and they did it by strong-arming consumers.
Even West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts, a leading advocate of these reforms in West Virginia, has now learned that sad truth for himself. Roberts and his family were left with no other choice but to file a lawsuit after his daughter was injured in a paintball accident. The Roberts' family has medical bills, had to take time from work to take their daughter to the doctor and the girl may have permanent damage to her eye. The insurance company for the defendants refuses to pay Roberts' claim -- and that's wrong.
Steve Roberts isn't the first "tort reform" advocate to be pushed to the wall by Big Insurance.
U. S. Senator Trent Lott, R-Miss., helped lead the fight for these reforms in Washington. That was before Hurricane Katrina destroyed Lott's home. Lott filed a claim with his insurer, State Farm, but it refused to pay. It said that Lott's damage was caused by flooding, and that his policy didn't cover that. It didn't matter that the home flooded after the storm's Category 5 winds blew the roof off the house.
Lott, like Roberts, had no other choice but to file a lawsuit to try to get Big Insurance to pay up.
Both Trent Lott and Steve Roberts have been great friends of Big Insurance and have led to effort to give those corporations total immunity when they cheat consumers and small businesses by offering pennies on the dollar or refusing to pay the claim at all. Lott is one of the most powerful members of the U. S. Senate, and Roberts is president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
If Big Insurance can do that to them, what chance does the average West Virginia consumer have?
Trent Lott and Steve Roberts now have seen the real Big Insurance monster hiding behind the mask. Now, they know the truth for themselves -- and that truth is that nothing and no one matters to Big Insurance except increasing profits on the backs of consumers, workers and small businesses.
Toriseva is president-elect of the West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association.